During the last two thousand years before the birth of Christ another great change took place in these islands. This was shown again by the materials found in archeological sites. This time, while things of the New Stone Age were unearthed like the polished stone tools, pottery pieces, shell and some stone ornaments, new things begun to appear. In the northern Philippines a suggestion of what could be the oldest sign of metal in this country appeared in the Musang Cave in Cagayan.This was a brass needle tenuously dated about 2000 B.C. In Palawan bronze tools, glass beads and bracelets and gold beads were dug up in the Duyong, Uyaw and Guri Caves. Duyong Cave is dated between 300 to 500 B.C. while Guri between 100 to 200 years B.C. Uyaw Cave contained jar burials with bronze adzes and spears, and was as old as the Duyong Cave. By this time the use of metals is already widespread in the old world and mainland of Asia. But its first appearance in these islands marked the beginning of a new set of changes that again altered the lifeways of the people and made the pace of life much faster than the previous ones.
The earliest metals to appear were gold, bronze, brass and copper in the form of ornamental beads, and tools like adzes and spearheads. There were very few of these, specially the bronze. Bronze appeared only very briefly so that unlike other places of the world, there is no period in this country that can be said to be “Bronze Age”. The reason is that the copper-bronze materials that appeared were far too small in number and were found only in a very few number of places. These metals could only have been brought in through trade and were never made there. In Palawan, however, moulds made of fired clay which were used in casting socketed adzes were found showing that tools using these metals were cast in Palawan. The Philippines have one of the richest copper deposits in Southeast Asia but there is no evidence that this ore was ever mined during this period. Neither is there a tin deposit so that bronze could only have been brought here. Gold is only present in good quantities but this was not mined until very much later in time. These early metals could only have been brought into the islands through the movements of people or through trade, but these came painfully slowly and rarely.
The first solid evidence for the presence of iron tools in this country was found in Palawan and dated about 190 B.C. Even in the periods immediately following, iron remained a very rare commodity and its presence was not known in many parts of the country, and then several hundreds of years later. In the Bicol regions it did not appear until A.D. 500. There are high grade iron deposits in the Philippines notably in Luzon but for some reason these were not mined until the moderntimes. The sites with iron slags came approximately after A.D. 1000. It is possible that earlier signs of iron may have been destroyed through time. In fact in Palawan, there were sites earlier than 200 B.C. which seemed to have iron. It is known that by the 7th century B.C. China was already casting iron and by the 3rd century A.D. it was able to make iron that is not brittle and started to produce large amounts of metal goods like plow points. They had a monopoly on this until the 16th century A.D. when the Japanese, Europeans, and the Thais came in. In the Philippines, the number of metal pieces recovered was not in quantities enough to warrant a chronological category of “Metal Age”, more so when there are questions as to whether or not the metal pieces or the metal itself were produced here.
The earliest date for the presence of iron in the Philippines came from the chamber B of Manunggul Cave in Lipuun Point in Palawan. This second camber of the cave that produced the famous Manunggul jar, was likewise used as a jar burial area during a time later than that of Chamber A. The burial jars were much simpler in design. Together with the jars were found glass beads of many colors and shapes; beads of onyx and carnelian; shell beads that are discoid, ringlike and cowry shells with holes on one side for stringing together. There were also nautilus shell scoops and stone anvils used for making pottery. Other sites in Palawan of the same age had the same kinds of materials present: iron tools of many kinds, fragments of copper and bronze, glass bracelets and beads, carnelian, jade and other semi-precious stone beads, gold beads, and shell ornaments of many kinds. Decorated pottery was also present. Other sites in different places in the country that date to the same period contained similar sets of materials. What marks the period is the set of artifacts that included iron, glass and carnelian, apart from the set of materials that appeared in earlier periods.
Iron made possible many changes in the culture of peoples of the islands and made the rate of change even faster. That tools made of iron could retain a sharp cutting age longer made these more effective and efficient than tools made of stone. Stone tools lose the sharpness of working edges even after a single use and need to be reground to be of use again. Metal tools, specially iron, on the other hand can be used over and over before being rehoned. Another advantage is that iron can be shaped to whatever useful form is needed so that it can be adapted for a very wide range of tool needs. Within a few hundred years, iron tools begun to be more and more common in archeological sites all over the country. With its spread far-reaching changes took place in the lifeways of people. One of the most effective use of the iron blade is in the clearing of forests for the cultivation of food plants. Whereas stone tools are not very efficient in cutting down trees, metal tools do not have this limitation. On top of this metal tools can reduce the time required for clearing and in making wider areas available for cultivation.
This enhances larger cropping and a subsequently larger harvest. The increase in food supply makes it easier to support a large population. Thus there rose during this period a drastic change in the ratio between man and land area. There were more men now per unit area than the earlier period. This pressure on the capacity of land required new methods of food production that would yield more in the same area of land. It is probable that with the introduction of iron, intensive agriculture also begun to grow in the country, gradually replacing slash-and-burn cultivation or kaingin as the basic method for plant cultivation, specially in the lowland areas where there were large populations centers. This method is one that is productive in the case of mono-cropping, that is, the planting of a single kind of plant like rice.
Rice has peculiar characteristics as a kind of grass. At a certain stage in its life it requires flooding waters, and during the ripening of the grain, it needs a dry environment with plenty of sunshine. Thus the early forms of the plant grows in floodplains which dry up after the initial annual rains. The planting of rice thus created a yearly cycle of planting activities that begin with the seeding of the plants at the start of the rainy season, ending in a harvest season some months after the floodings have receded after the monsoonal rains. The floodplain areas were thus occupied by intensive cultivators with the slash-and-burn cultivation left in the higher slopes where the annual floodings do not reach, planting crops that are dependent only on rainfall as tubers like yams and taro.
Two groupings then evolved from this difference in crop cultivation: the intensive wet agriculture which is characterized by mono-cropping: and the earlier slash-and-burn cultivation which is based on multi-cropping and inter-cropping. The first is associated with more densely populated communities in the lowlands near the coast or mouths of rivers or floodplains; and the latter in smaller or scattered settlements in the highlands. The first is more in touch with trade networks that included contacts with communities as far as the mainland of Asia; while the latter remained relatively conservative due to less contact with the outside. The exception to this cultivation method and geographic location are the highland peoples of the Philippines like the Ifugao of the Cordillera ranges who practice intensive wet rice cultivation high in the mountains who were already in that area at about the beginning of the Christian era. Those in the lowland and coastal areas were subjected to continual contacts with the outside and their cultures were marked by rapid and continual changes; while the highland communities were conservative resulting in a very slow pace of culture change.
The increase in contact and trade with areas outside of the Philippine islands is shown not only by the artifacts dating to this period that could only have come from other place, but is also suggested by the ability of local peoples in reaching outlying areas through the use of sea-going crafts. In 1979, a boat was excavated in northeastern Mindanao near the city of Butuan at a depth of about two meters. The remains were composed of five planks. The original boat measured about fifteen meters long and three meters wide. The planks were joined together edge-to-edge with the use of wooden pegs, and the hull is further made strong by bindings of fibre cords through holes in raised lugs on the inside surfaces of the planks – an ancient Southeast Asian method of boat-building. The wood of the boat has been dated to A.D. 320. This boat was the fore-runner of the water craft later to be referred to as “balanghai”. Others of this kind of boat were excavated or found in the same area indicating a widespread use of this boat type even as late as A.D. 1250. boat is large and stable enough to sail over wide open seas not merely to travel up and down rivers, but to go from island to island as part of a large overlapping networks of marine trade. Proof of this is the discovery of a similar boat excavated in Pontian, Malaysia which has been dated to A.D. 295. Boats of this type in fact are still being made not only in southern Philippines but also in Sulawesi, Indonesia, showing that this type of boat is used widely over Southeast Asia and along the coasts of mainland Asia even before the beginning of the Christian era. It is on board boats like these that merchandise like iron, jade, carnelian, glass, bronze and others later to be recovered in archeological sites, were able to reach the islands of Southeast Asia.
Boats like these show that certain parts of the population now spend their time in trading in addition to or completely apart from plant cultivation and animal domestication. While this shows that the population now produced more than enough food to allow part of the society to engage in trade alone, the more important thing is that there is now also the start of division of labor within the society. Boat-building, for example, is possible only if a certain group of craftsmen were to specialize in this type of work for this requires special skills and knowledge of ship structure and other lore. Other areas ofhuman activity would reflect this developing division of work.
This period of prehistory is known not only for the appearance of metals, but also as the Golden Age of Philippine pottery. The pottery of the foregoing period were beautifully unique and the pieces were rarely repeated. During the Metal Age, all over the country appeared beautiful pottery in large numbers and in many different types. Within each type is a large number of variations not only in shape but in the decorations incised, painted, impressed or appliqued onto the surfaces of the vessels. Apart from Palawan where these kinds of pottery were dug up, one of the earliest archeological sites that yielded the pottery marker of this period is the Kalanay site in the island of Masbate.
The Kalanay site is a burial cave where part from the pottery other materials were recovered: iron tools, jade beads, blue glass beads, polished stone adzes, stone and shell operculum used as pot-making stone anvils, and a piece of textile. The pottery were overly decorated with scallop or lenslike designs, curving and geometric lines forming scrolls, diagonals, triangles, and many others. Pottery similar to these were found in other parts of the central and coastal southern Philippines that date more or less to the same age, suggesting that the tradition is one that is spread by the movements of people through boats.
Where pottery of this age appeared, there were however special traits that identify one group distinctly from pottery of another area. The designs and forms, too, are indeces of relationship between different areas. An example of this is the kind of earthenware that appeared in Magsuhot, Bacong, Oriental Negros. One of the more curious of the forms that appeared here are vessels that look like upside-down chalices with no bottoms, and the sides of which are with four or so rectangular holes. The use of these vessels are not yet known. The form of the rather elongated pots is also curious, as the other flat vessels. Even though the pottery are thickly made, with rather grainy bodies, these were all well fired. In no other place in the Philippines is pottery of this type found, except in the Huyop-huyupan Cave in Camarines Sur where similar forms were found with the difference here that the earthenware were not well fired such that the insides of the vessel walls still had black cores. One curious item, too, another of the open-ended vessels but with two human figures clasping each other around the vessel, was found in Magsuhot. A metal vessel of this kind was also uncovered in Lamongan in the Indonesian archipelago.
The island of Dumaran just northeast of the mainland of Palawan likewise produced distinctive pottery marked by a large number of water juglike bottles that were thickly potted and had grainy clay. The most elegant of the Metal Age pottery to appear, however, are those excavated in the general area of Batangas and Mindoro, and dated towards the latter part of this age, before high-fired trade ceramics came into the country. These pottery again have a wide range of forms, angle pots, jugs, goblets, jars, dishes with high stands decorated with cut-outs, most of these ornately decorated with incised lines, impressions, combings, appliques of studs or spines, animal or human faces and figures, and so on. The bodies of the pieces were highly polished, burnished and covered with a red slip. The craftsmanship is of very high quality and the finish is finely done.
Although the same forms of pottery, were found in the adjoining areas in the provinces of Rizal and Laguna, the finish is not of the same quality as those found in the Batangas area, and the clay is of different mineral contents which is visible in terms of clay body color and texture. There is no known earlier potting culture in Batangas thus far excavated so that this industry appeared to have risen only during the late Metal Age, and continued on to later periods.
It may be noted that locally made earthenware through time to the present have been fired in the open without the use of a kiln so that the vessels were all heated well below 800 degrees centigrade. There are evidences, however, from the island of Dumaran and Sorsogon where some pottery were fired as high as 1300 degrees – a temperature that can be reached only through the use of a kiln, a structure not found in the island Southeast Asia during prehistoric times. This suggests that either there were kilns indeed in these islands during these times although very limited in number, or that these high-fired pottery were again brought in through trade, which is more likely, since there were other trade goods brought in from other lands during this age.